Colleges face sports content creation challenge

By Carolyn Braff

As colleges continue to increase their athletic department’s quota for
streaming content, sports information directors and video coordinators
must find new and creative ways to increase their digital output, something
easier said than done without an influx of staff, technical support or
expertise.

“Streaming has gone from cutting edge to common place and schools are
expected to keep up just to stay competitive,” explains Mark Fratto,
associate athletics director for communications at St. John’s
University.

Keeping up means offering a live or on-demand stream of every home game
for every sport, television contracts permitting, and some conferences
are getting involved to help. Conference USA outfits each of its 12
member institutions with cameras, laptops and a capture device to
produce their video streams, ensuring at least a minimum quality
standard.

“Our conference has mandated to us that we basically stream
everything,” explains Mike Bilbow, video production manager at the
University of Tulsa. With the exception of rowing, track and cross
country, Tulsa offers streams of every varsity sport through the
school’s CBS College Sports-hosted website.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Tulane University had neither
the equipment nor the personnel to stream any athletic events, but in
the two years since Assistant Athletic Director for Athletics
Communication Roger Dunaway arrived, all Green Wave home events are now
streamed online.

“We stream all of the home events that we can, that’s our policy,”
Dunaway says. “We are still waiting on some of our sports to come back
after the hurricane, but we do weekly football press conferences, radio
shows for basketball with audio and video, our baseball radio coaches’
show and signing day for football as a live event.”

Not every school has a dedicated video production manager on staff, so
the quality, and quantity, of the digital content produced by every
school varies. Bilbow came to Tulsa with a background in sports
production, so he equipped Tulsa’s video control room with equipment
far more advanced than what the conference provided. This summer, Tulsa
will transition to HD and the entire equipment room will be
re-outfitted.

Notre Dame, a member of the Big East Conference, streams every home
game for almost every sport. The only exceptions are football, due to
the school’s broadcast contract with NBC, and men’s basketball, due to
the conference’s broadcast contract with ESPN.

“When I first started this, the athletic director’s vision was
two-fold: that every varsity athletic home event on campus will be
streamed live, and that by the time every athlete has four years here
we will have at least one interview or feature done on them,” explains
Alan Wasielewski, director of digital media for Notre Dame Sports
Properties. “Now it’s just a matter of having the personnel available
to do it.”

Currently, Notre Dame produces four original shows each week during the
football season, but with several new hires slated for the coming
months, Notre Dame hopes to be producing higher-quality content, in
higher quantities, as early as next year.

St. John’s, another Big East member school, streams all of its home games for every sport in which the venue allows it.

“Some of our venues don’t have a T1 hardwired internet line,” Fratto
says. “We can’t do video streaming for baseball or softball because we
don’t have the Internet infrastructure.”

St. John’s is in the midst of a $5 million facelift for Carnesecca
Arena, home to the school’s basketball teams, and will build a
broadcast position with T1 Internet throughout the building, allowing
for better camera angles and higher-quality streaming productions.

Elsewhere in the Big East, West Virginia streams some of its home
events for soccer, women’s basketball, gymnastics and wrestling through
a CBS College Sports-hosted subscription service, but like most of the
nation’s athletic departments, is looking to expand its offerings.

“Like anything else with the Internet, you can do as much as you want
to do; it’s infinite,” Fratto says. “You’ve got to first figure out how
to do a couple of things and make sure they working every time, and
then you can try to grow it and enhance the broadcast.”